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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Exploring Arizona’s Ancient Dwellings

After driving several miles south on Interstate 17 in central Arizona, it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to make it to the Montezuma Castle National Monument. There were no signs directing me to it from where I got on the highway at Camp Verde, so I didn’t know where to go. I felt no regret, though, since I had already seen several of Arizona’s ancient dwellings.
I had a preconceived notion that all of the ancient cliff dwellings and Pueblos were largely concentrated in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah in places like today’s Mesa Verde National Park and the Natural Bridges National Monument. And then I came across a somewhat similar place – Puerco Pueblo – in the Petrified Forest National Park.
No, the Puerco Pueblo wasn’t a cliff dwelling like others I had seen to the north, but instead set on a hilltop overlooking the area. Much of the defensive planning – a good overview of the area and difficult to approach – seemed to be instituted for this structure just as it was with the cliff dwellings. Yet it was completely different.
I pulled off Interestate 40 on a whim. I had been driving for a couple of hours and wanted to stretch my legs. The Walnut Canyon National Monument seemed like a good opportunity to do so. I had no idea what it was, but I assumed there would be a good hiking trail in my future in the canyon.
There was a good hiking trail, I guessed correctly, but there was also much more. I was surprised to find cliff dwellings, just like those at Mesa Verde National Park. They were wedged into the walls of the canyon. It was a spectacular site, a whole community of cliff dwellings still in existence approximately 800 years after being built. They certainly weren’t in any fit state to entertain, but it was a fantastic treasure to see nonetheless.
My head cold was doing its best to move into my lungs, so climbing back up the 240 steps (185 feet in elevation) felt like it was going to be the end of me. But it was worth it after having explored some of the cliff dwellings, actually being able to step inside their shells and lay my hands on the bricks and clay used so long ago.
I left for the Sedona area with a smile on my face. Never had I known there to be any sort of cliff dwellings in Arizona – not that I’m an expert on them, mind you – and it was a treat that makes road trips worth the while. Still, I had something else in mind – something that was planned from the start of my trip – and I was looking forward to it. I was going to see the Tuzigoot National Monument.
Tuzigoot National Monument was never on my radar before I picked up a map of Arizona and looked at where I wanted to drive. And when I saw the name Tuzigoot printed in little red letters just west of Sedona, I knew that was a place I needed to stop. I didn’t know anything of the history or the location, I simply just wanted to stop because of the name. It intrigued me.
Tuzigoot is the Apache name for “crooked water,” a reference of nearby Peck’s Lake and the Verde River. I’m nowhere near an historical expert on the place after my visit, but I found the meaning behind the name rather amusing, since it was the Southern Sinagua (Without Water) who once inhabited the area. They, too, also inhabited the area that is now the Montezuma Castle National Monument, the one I was skipping for lack of good directions.
What I found particularly interesting in my exploration of Tuzigoot was that at the same time the Sinagua were building Pueblos in the Verde Valley, so were others building cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon. But those who were building in the canyon were related to those who built in today’s Petrified Forest National Park. So while they may have been of different cultures at the same time – the Sinagua or the Ancestral Puebloans – their engineering and building skills obviously crossed over. It more came down to a matter of what was preferred and practical for a group settling an area – pueblos or cliff dwellings.
I stood atop a watch tower at Tuzigoot thinking of these things. A commanding view of the Verde Valley lay before me, just as it would in Walnut Canyon for those who lived in the cliff dwellings. And it was all equally impressive to think what was accomplished long before anyone crossed a great ocean from the east or west.

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